Camino Postcard 14: Hornillos to Honatas

24.4.19.
Day Two on the Meseta.

Wow. A short, and intense day. When we left the homely albergue, it was raining, but only lightly. Everyone felt fine. Ellena’s knee was getting better, Carolin felt okay, and so did I.

Our intention was to walk to Castrojeriz, 20 kilometres away. We managed 10 before throwing in the towel.

What happened? The weather did, big time.

The meseta

The light rain got heavier. It turned into sleet, then snow. The wind drove it down against our faces. My left foot started squelching. Uh-oh. Had I trod in a puddle? The squelching got heavier. It started in my left boot but soon both feet were affected. No, I hadn’t trod in a puddle: the rain, sleet and snow had penetrated my boots and soaked my socks right through.

For me, this was the worst news. If my feet were squelching they were rubbing against my socks and boots, and that meant I was at increased risk of acquiring one or more blisters. And that, of course, I really did not want to happen.

I don’t think I have mentioned blisters for a while, so let me reiterate: they were bad news. At best, they slowed you down; at worst, they could end your walk.

Slowing down doesn’t sound so bad. No, but had I needed to do so, I might have had to leave Ellena and Carolin, which would have been a great blow as we were getting on so well. It would also have put me behind schedule, which had the potential to cause money problems.

A Camino ending blister would certainly be bad news. Yes. I wouldn’t have minded having to go home early because of my eye because I can’t help being short sighted but if it had been because of my leg (I should have got physio for it last year) or because of a blister that would have been incredibly frustrating.

You had the right boots and socks, though; the weather was not your fault. Welcome to my world of irrational thinking.

The snow continued to fall. All three of us soon got soaked through. It got even worse – the wind lowered the temperature until our hands were frozen. Mine stung with the cold. We decided to stop at the next town we came to, which was Honatas. There, we found an albergue. We checked in as soon as it opened. Until then, we drank wine and a couple of hot chocolates (not at once) in its café.

Exhibit A: One frozen pilgrim

The afternoon was spend warming up in bed.

There was still a little drama to come, though. After checking in, we were asked – as per the custom at all albergues – to leave our boots on a rack under an awning outside. We knew, however, that if we did that, they would never dry out in the cold, damp air. So, an executive decision was taken to go against albergue custom and keep them in our dorm. Fortunately, the hospitalera did not notice (or chose not to do so). If she had, I would certainly have brought them in later on and kept them in the dorm overnight.

At tea time, we ate in the dining area. At the end, we were charged for our food. Again: we had already paid for it when checking in. The man-in-charge (pun intended) made a stink about it but eventually found it in his gracious heart to let the matter go.

As the afternoon wore on, the bad weather passed; we even saw a little blue sky. The rain made a couple of comebacks but didn’t last, and was never as bad as the morning.

After we checked in, I inspected my feet for blisters. The good news was that no new ones had appeared. The bad news, however, was that my left thigh had severely chafed. Fortunately, that resolved itself over the next few days with a generous and regular application of vaseline.

I got lucky – all three of us got lucky: we were told about a French pilgrim who had been found laid out on a bench somewhere behind us. Thank the Lord she was alive. Details were never more than sketchy, but I recall being told that she was found wearing inadequate clothing for bad weather. Exhaustion must have taken her. This is why, as I said yesterday, it is so important to prepare as well as you can. Of course, this applies to the Camino as a whole and not just the meseta.

The weather was so bad, Ellena and Carolin were forced to put their ponchos on over their raincoats. Note the muddy path, which made the walk even more difficult – especially when it was filled with puddles.

Camino Postcard 13: Burgos to Hornillos

23.4.19. A wet day, but a better one than the last two – well, just about.

We saw numerous statues on the way out of Burgos. I don’t know who this one commemorates but it was good to see a disabled person remembered in this way

Ellena’s knee was improving but continued to hurt. My right leg ached as as per usual and Carolin started feeling unwell. Ellena and I were able to keep walking but while Carolin could walk, she felt so bad she was not able to carry her backpack. Ellena took it for her, and now wore one on her front, and her own on her back. She looked like a backpack sandwich, and it is a matter of great regret to me that I never took a photograph of her! (If I never write another blog post, you’ll know that she killed me after reading this! Entschuldigung, Ellena!).

Given her situation, it was a heroic effort. She never once complained and carried both backpacks for sixteen kilometres.

In our haste to leave Burgos, we did not stop for breakfast there. Instead, we waited until we reached the little town of Tardajos. There, we took cover in a small tent outside a café, amongst other pilgrims, and ate chocolate croissants.

Given our previous experience, and the fact that 23rd April was a public holiday in Spain, not eating in Burgos was a bit of a risk. We could easily have ended up with nothing like we did between Redecilla and Belorado. I think my advice to future pilgrims would have to be Always eat when you can or at least, Take food with you in case you don’t find any open cafés.

Not long after leaving Tardajos, we passed a small town named Rabé de las Calzadas. In doing so, we entered the Meseta. This section of the Camino Francés is just over two hundred kilometres in length and consists of fields, fields and more fields, and paths that go on forever.

What is a true pilgrim? One who looks after another

I have read that many pilgrims take transport rather than walk across the Meseta, and I can understand why. There is no cover from the elements.

  • If you walk across the Meseta in the summer, put on sun tan lotion and wear a hat/sunglasses! Make sure, too, that you have as much water as you can carry with you.
  • If you walk across it in winter, make sure you are wearing a rain proof coat! These things are of critical importance – not just to get across the Meseta comfortably but to do so safely.

With all that said, let me not make the Meseta sound like a danger zone. It can punish the unwary, but the truth is, if Ellena, Carolin and I could walk the entire length of it in our depleted state, anyone can. Just make sure that you prepare as well as you can.

On the 23rd, the rain stopped and started all day. Fortunately, our day ended at around lunchtime. Just over twenty kilometres after leaving Burgos, we arrived in another small town – Hornillos del Camino – where we decided enough was enough. And because the day had not been an easy one, we also decided to treat ourselves: rather than go to the municipal albergue, we opted to stay at a private one instead.

It was a very homely house (the last one?) and cost €15 rather than €5 but was worth every penny. The living room was very cozy, the other pilgrims were some nice Americans, and we were given a room with two bunks, so had to share with just one other person – who turned out to be our friend Lillian: a perfect circle!

The hospitalero did not provide food so we had to eat out in the evening. Until then there was a convenience store right across the road. When I made the epic three second journey across the road to buy some food, the store owner gave me a scallop shell free of charge, which was rather kind of him.

In the afternoon, Ellena and Carolin rested. I worked on the Fixxbook while the Americans chatted to one another about the origin of the St. James in Spain legend. Later on, I discovered that one of the Americans was a fan of Bruce Springsteen. He told me that there really is an E Street in The Boss’ hometown, which was great knowledge.

The private albergue we stayed at in Hornillos also looked after members of The Way production! This poster is signed by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez

That night, I slept well.